March 5, 2012
National Trust for Historic Preservation
1785 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Re: Oswego Iron Furnace
Dear Award Committee Members:
As a citizen of Lake Oswego, a resident of the Old Town neighborhood in which the Oswego Iron Furnace is located, and as president of the Lake Oswego Preservation Society, I recommend the Oswego Iron Furnace project for the Richard H. Driehaus National Preservation Award.
The 1866 Oswego Iron Furnace stands proudly in the heart of the city’s first public park, George Rogers Park, and in the heart of the community. It’s a monument to the past, present, and future of the city. It’s a monument to the nineteenth century capitalists who invested in the dream of iron, the stonemasons who built it, and the industry’s role in shaping the town.
The stabilization project completed in 2010 has added another layer to this historical significance. The furnace is now also a monument to community leaders with the vision of preservation, to the art of present-day stonemasons, and to those who rallied over the years to save the furnace. It will continue to stand as such a monument and, given the accompanying interpretative panels, it will continue to provide a learning opportunity for those who come after us.
The following examples demonstrate the community’s support of the furnace and its importance to the city’s economic vitality:
- The furnace is such an iconic symbol of Lake Oswego that the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce, whose tagline is “forging relationship, building the community” recently adopted an image of the furnace as their logo.
- Over 250 people attended the “Furnace Blast” event in celebration of the completion of the stabilization project.
- Hundreds of people attended a memorial service at the furnace for a former mayor and community leader.
- Educators teach grade school children about the history of Lake Oswego by visiting the furnace.
- Townspeople use it as a gathering place. The area surrounding the furnace functions as an “outdoor living room” for the community.
- The furnace, as the only remaining blast furnace west of the Rocky Mountains, is both a local and a national tourist attraction and this, in turn, contributes to the city’s economic vitality.
- The recently completed Oswego Iron Heritage Trail, funded by the city, links and interprets seven sites related to the industry. It is an innovative approach to telling the story of the iron industry through the eyes of the workers. The trail is generating more interest in Lake Oswego’s history for local, regional, and national visitors who, it is anticipated, will spend tourist dollars in Lake Oswego.
As a resident of the Old Town neighborhood in which the furnace is located, I can attest to the fact that the furnace, along with the other iron-era sites, is a source of pride for the neighborhood. This sense of pride has been revitalized since the city demonstrated the importance of the furnace by investing it its stabilization. Old Town residents have applied for and have been awarded several Neighborhood Enhancement Programs (NEP) grants by the City of Lake Oswego. These neighborhood-driven, city-funded projects include:
- Every street name in Old Town, officially platted in 1867, has a connection to the iron era. An NEP grant funded interpretative signs for each street explaining the significance of the person or place in the city’s history.
- Another NEP grant funded the creation and installation of two maps that show the location of the historic sites in Old Town.
Lastly, I speak as the president of the Lake Oswego Preservation Society, a non-profit corporation. This organization was founded in 2011, too late to play a role in the furnace stabilization project. I applaud the concerted efforts that saved this place that matters so much to our community.
William Murtagh wrote, “It has been said that, at its best, preservation engages the past in a conversation with the present over a mutual concern for the future.” Receiving this national award would underscore the importance of the furnace as a symbol of Lake Oswego’s industrial past, a symbol of the present community’s roots, and a symbol of the city’s future.
President, Lake Oswego Preservation Society
*in October 2012, the Oswego Iron Furnace was selected as one of 22 National Preservation Honor Award winners.